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Exploring China's new frontier ep.17: A decade in Xinjiang: American Josh Summers explores China's far west

Reporter: Han Bin 丨 CCTV.com

10-17-2016 12:55 BJT

Full coverage: Xinjiang: Exploring China’s New Frontier

For years, the unrest in China's northwest Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has been a focus of some western media. Security measures are strict there to ensure stability, yet it's not an isolated place which is closed to foreigners. China's recent 'Belt and Road' initiative, which aims to promote connectivity and cooperation with Eurasian countries, has put Xinjiang on the frontier of the country's Reform and Opening up. As in many of China's other less developed areas, the modernization process in Xinjiang has been one of pains and gains.

In today's episode, reporter Han Bin interviews a Urumqi-based blogger and entrepreneur, who's lived a decade there with his family. 33-year-old American Josh Summers has found himself by exploring China's Far West.

"We are heading through Turpan’s Flaming Mountains, heading to the ancient village of Tuyoq, one of my favorite places in Xinjiang. Most people only have the opportunity to see Xinjiang, from inside a bus or inside a car, but we can really feel the wind, to see 360 degrees around you, that’s what makes a bike so much fun," Summers said.

Xinjiang impresses me because of its variety. It’s got a variety of cultures and customs that continuously keep me interested. It’s not just the scenery; it’s the people, in addition to the scenery. ”

Many say it’s not safe in Xinjiang?

"Yes, stereotypes are pretty powerful thing. If all I know about Xinjiang is what I read in the news, I’m probably being a little worried about my safety as well. But I’ve lived here for a number of years, and I’ve never once felt unsafe. I’ve been brought my family out here," Summers said.

My suggestions for the foreign travelers: it’s worth having an out here, for sure.

It’s not an extremely dangerous place, unless you don’t know how to ride a bicycle.

I believe curiosity is a God-given gift, to cause us to ask why to discover new things.

Curiosity makes us to explore what we don’t understand, and it’s really that is what draws me to Xinjiang. There’re more people groups, more ethnic customs, more undiscovered places here, in a more massive tract of land I ever dreamed of discovering in a single lifetime.

I have my ups and downs here in Xinjiang, but there are no other places in the world that incites my curiosity like this place does.”

"Yes, all of those adjectives: poor, rich, historical, modern, all of those applied to this region. So, there’s plenty to explore," Summers said.

I think the shames of the stereotypes exist, but I understand why they exist, we have to be able to try to figure, to understand something, and so often it’s easier to just stick to a stereotype to that.

And the privilege that I’ve had is been able to stay here for a longer period of time, to be able to slowly break some of the stereotypes, and be able to understand a little more of the complexity, that creates what we know of Xinjiang now.

Xinjiang is a beauty and contradiction; you can’t stereotype Xinjiang very easily.

It’s truly a blessing for me, to be able to stay here and enjoy and continue to learn more about the culture and the people.

There’s so much that I haven’t seen here. And I’m going to continue to keep exploring, until I’m no longer able to do so here. ”

"There are times when I really get sad to see old town in Kashgar, a kind of rebuilt to something that not quite what it used to be, or when I hear about certain handicrafts, like Uyghur paper or other things, that's just starting to die out. I understand that a lot of that is natural, it’s going to happen. The only thing I can do about it personally is to try to document that," Summers said.

It’s definitely a balance of what’s happening between things that are trying to be preserved, and things that are trying to be modernized for the sake of tourism or the sake of economy.

So people outside of Xinjiang can see what they see on the news, or what they’ve kind of grown up understanding but for somebody that has been here for a longer period of time, being able to get to know the people personally, to get to see a lot of the culture and its rough form, not in its publicized form, to get to see it when no cameras are involved.

There’s a little bit of difference there that allows you to connect. When you connect, you start to understand the culture; you really can break down a lot of stereotypes.

In the beginning, blogging was an outlet for me. It was ability, a creative writing, on what else of experiencing, and to take pictures to be able to show them to the people back at home.

It’s really something that is therapeutic for me.

"I’m sure there’re plenty of road blocks yet to overcome for Xinjiang, but I am betting, by setting up business, by bringing my family here, I am betting that there’s a future here in Xinjiang. There will be growth in the tourism industry; there is going to be growth in the business industry, that overall, Xinjiang will continue to grow, and I want to be here to see it," Summers said.

My wife and I moved out here about ten years ago, and we are planning to stay for as long as God continues to give us a passion to be here.

What I see is my role in the role of Far West China, is to be able to provide a balance to the narrative, to be able to allow people like myself, to fall in love with this region that they’ve probably never heard about.

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